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Busójárás: Festival in Mohács

As in many other parts of the world, Hungary also has a long tradition of chasing away winter and ushering in spring, and there are many customs and beliefs associated with this tradition. The Busójárás (“Busó-walking”) of Mohács is one of the most important and most well-known such customs, and is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

The Tradition of Busójárás

Busójárás is a tradition of the native South-Slavic Šokci population of Mohács. It is an internationally recognised and frequented folk tradition for chasing away winter. The origins of the tradition can be found in chasing out the Turkish forces. Supposedly, the people living here would conceal themselves in the nearby swamps, donning masks and making loud noises to frighten away the superstitious Turkish soldiers. In reality, however, the Šokci people probably brought this tradition with them when arrived from the Balkans to settle here, and it merely developed into its present form here.

According to Šokci traditions, the essence of Busójárás is “poklade”, meaning transformation. They take this very seriously, experiencing this holiday in a different state of consciousness behind their masks, more in tune with their instincts and free of the boundaries of time and space. At these times, many things are allowed that would not be acceptable in everyday life. True Busó tradition demands that one’s face and identity must remain hidden during the holiday, and some people even regularly switch masks in order to keep their identity a secret.

The Main Characters

The Busó is the main character in this holiday: he is a monstrous being wearing a wooden mask, a fur coat turned inside-out, trousers stuffed with straw, and sometimes embroidered stockings or bocskors (traditional laced sandals). The fur coat is fastened with a chain or rope, or occasionally a belt. The Busó also always has a cowbell, a clapper or a wooden mace. Sometimes, other accessories are used as well: a wooden pitchfork, a washing paddle, a water carrying pole, bull pizzle, a puppet in a wooden tub, or gourds fastened to their belt. They often travel around town on carts or decorated small tractors. It has become part of the tradition for groups of Busós to compete against each other, seeing who can come up with the funniest and most striking new ideas for the appearance of the Busó, while still respecting the established traditions.


The Szépbusók (“Pretty Busós”) are girls – or occasionally men – dressed in traditional Šokci garb, with a veil covering their face. They have an important practical task: it is their job to guide and coordinate the Busós, who often cannot see very well out of their mask. They act as the masked Busós’ eyes, guiding them arm in arm, or sometimes just walking next to them.


The Busós are accompanied by the Jankeles, dressed in rags, with ragged sacks on their head. Their job is to keep away the people on the road, especially children making fun of the Busós, using flour, ash, or sacks of sawdust – today mostly just with the latter, playfully slapping anyone they can reach.

A Community

The Busós form official groups within the town, preparing for the big holiday together, but they also cooperate and help each other during the rest of the year. There are over 50 official groups, but there are also Busós acting outside of these groups.

Originally, the groups of Busós would loudly go from house to house and receive gifts of food and drink from the residents in exchange for their wishes of good fortune and their rituals for chasing away winter. Today, their procession has grown into a town-wide event. These days, events are centred on Széchenyi Square, with a lot of audiovisual effects: cannons are fired, bonfires are lit, many different things are used to make loud noises.

The Busós cross the Danube on Shrove Sunday to begin the procession. This is when winter’s coffin is launched on the river, and this is the night when the largest bonfire is lit.

While tourists mostly come for the weekend events, the residents of Mohács continue their celebrations on Tuesday, burning a (second) winter’s coffin on a bonfire in the main square to usher in spring.

The masks that have become known as the symbol of the holiday are made by professional mask carvers, traditional craftsmen who are well known to each other, and whose personal style is easily recognisable in their work. Some believe that a true Busó must carve his own mask.

The Busójárás of Miskolc was entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009.

Interesting Facts

  • One of the traditional Busó shouts when proceeding through the town is “Bao-bao!”
  • Back when the Busós would proceed from house to house, they would announce their arrival to the residents with a horn. Next, they would make their way through the courtyard, making a spectacular racket with their cowbells and rattlers. They would beat the corners of the buildings, walk around the livestock in the stable, and the Busó with the sack full of ash would scatter a bit of ash onto the straw bedding of the animals, as well as onto the porch and the doorstep, as a way to ward against disease and misfortune.
  • The Busós would bring ploughs with them as well, which they used to plough up the yard, then symbolically sow for a plentiful harvest. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they would only plough up the yard of farmers who would not willingly let them in.
  • Originally, only married men and young men below the age of 45-50 could take part in the Busójárás, and women were only permitted to help with getting the men into their costumes. Things are very different today, and the men of Mohács are often joined by the local children and even the women dressing up as Busós.
  • The flanged mace is the symbolic weapon of the Busó. It was – and is – assembled from many small pieces, without using any nails, making it a little like the predecessor of a logic puzzle, thereby also symbolising skill and expertise.
  • In days of old, the Busós would sometimes wrestle each other, in order to find out whether the Busó behind the mask was an old or a young man.
  • The Busó horn was made of willow wood, split in half and hollowed out, then bound tight with twigs in several places. Finally, it was placed in the stables, where the humid air caused it to swell and gave it a beautiful, sonorous sound. The horn, which was often up to three metres long, was usually carried by one Busó, with a different Busó blowing it. Today, the noisemaking devices used are generally smaller and easier to manage.
  • The groups of Busós are accompanied by folk musicians on all six days of the festival, with the musicians also taking part in the celebrations. The musical accompaniment usually consists of tamburas, but horn players are increasingly common as well. Musicians have truly become an integral part of the festival.
  • The garb of the Szépbusó is often handed down from generation to generation, and some pieces of traditional clothing may be hundreds of years old. Some of them may even be more valuable than an entire Busó costume.

WONDERS OF HUNGARY - BUSÓ FESTIVITIES AT MOHÁCSHow scary do you have to be to scare away winter itself? Join us visiting the annual Busó festivities in Mohács, the famous carnival with wooden masks, noise and flames. In our next episode of Wonders of Hungary, we are taking you to see this UNESCO listed world heritage.
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